The nine-acre Freedman's Cemetery was established in Danville in the 1870's for formerly enslaved and free African Americans. It is located behind the Danville National Cemetery, burial ground for Union soldiers who perished in Danville prisons during the Civil War, and adjacent to Green Hill Cemetery, site of memorials to the Confederate dead.
Because there are scant burial records for Freedman's Cemetery, it is uncertain exactly how many people are buried there. Fifty-five gravestones, however, were documented by Piedmont Lineages, as part of a five-year cemetery project led by Mary Leigh Boisseau for the Virginia/North Carolina Piedmont Genealogical Society.
A sampling of the standing stones shows Freedman's Cemetery remained an important burial site for African Americans into the twentieth century, even though the segregated Oak Hill Cemetery opened in 1901, providing an alternative burial ground for blacks.
Among those African Americans who have identifiable plots in Freedman's Cemetery are:
The Holbrook family, including Levi E. Holbrook (1866-1907), a South Main Street property owner, who in 1898 organized Danville's Holbrook & Cunningham Funeral Home with U. S. Cunningham;
The Yancey family, including William Alexander Yancey (1850-1925), who became principal of the Danville school in 1881 (and was the first African American to be named a principle in Danville); and his wife, Florence Elizabeth Yancey (1857-1930), a Petersburg teacher who came to Danville in 1875 to teach at the same school;
Waldron S. France, who died in 1918, the first black soldier from Danville or Pittsylvania County to die in World War I; the city's American Legion Post 29 is named for him.
In 1972, the Danville Register published an article on Freedman's Cemetery, calling it the "city's lost Negro cemetery" and noting its state of disrepair and neglect. The city of Danville now mows and maintains the cemetery, but many of the gravestones are broken, and a number of stones lie almost obscured in the grass and dirt.
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